We don’t have a magic ball that shows us where the fares are. Unless you count The Flight Deal, in which case–we do!
I’m using US Airways as an example, but you can do this with any airline!
Planning the Flight Route
The East Coast is a good place to do mileage runs for US Airways. It is great to capitalize on stop-overs because US Airways gives you a minimum of 500 miles for each leg. I try to jump between DCA/CLT/PHL as much as possible because that can add up quickly.
You can map out your flights here using the airport codes for each leg of the flight:
Just replace anything less than 500 miles with 500 if you already have some US Airways status (or are on a US Airways Trial).
Also make sure you have enough time for your longer legs with all those stop overs. I padded the time pretty well and I bought a club membership to pass the time in between. This may be worth it to help you pass time time or fix itineraries if anything goes wrong. I also travel for work, so I really value my club access. But, noting what restaurants or bars you’d like to hang out in is good enough, or finding someone else with club access to guest you in 😉
Figuring Out the Cost
As for flying the weekends, figure out how much status is worth to you. Then keep looking at flights until your status is in a price range you are comfortable with.
If you have specific locations you’d love to travel to, the Fly.com fare calendar can be useful: http://www.fly.com/Flywidgets/CalendarSearch.aspx. I used that when pricing out a potential trip to IST (on United).
How do you find flights that are worth it? Since flights can fluctuate in price day-to-day, it is important to look at potential flights broadly. Bonus points if you don’t care really where you are flying. I have a “as long as it is interesting” rule for my mileage runs.
That’s where the ITA Software Matrix comes in. In this search, you can look for flights on specific carriers and leave a lot open ended. (You can search a within 300 miles of a specified destination).
Just know that ITA Software Matrix can “time out,” so if you search too many airport combinations, it won’t really return all the results. I tend to stick to a 300 mile radius or smaller just to keep things simple.
In the departing area, you put the name of the airport you are leaving from, plus something extra to make sure it only looks at US Airways flights. I’m in DCA, so let’s try out of there.
For Destination, let’s try SFO. So we type SFO into the destination box, but then hit “nearby”.
I select within 300 miles so I can see as many airports as possible and then hit “select all”.
I select to search by calendar of lowest fares departing at the end of October. I put 1 day as my length of stay (since I’m not really looking to vacation) and search. This way I can see when the cheapest times to travel are.
Here’s how my filled out search form looks:
After I hit search, here are the results I got:
Notice the $280 standing out. You can change the date of your search easily in the upper left-hand corner to continue looking at the next few months. That flight turns out to be DCA-PHX-SFO then SFO-PHL-DCA.
With the great circle mapper, I found out that is 5,651 miles. The search doesn’t have PHL-DCA in it. That’s less than 500 miles, so I just added 500 at the end. This is just shy of five cents per mile.
Things to Remember
You cannot book through ITA Matrix Software. You must find the same flight when booking through your preferred method. I usually go directly to US Airways.
The amount of days you are staying in your location can change the price of the flight. If you don’t mind staying longer, that may positively affect the price.
Think about off seasons.
Short flights may be your answer if you don’t mind waiting around in airports and going from place to place. Also, look at airports nearby if you don’t mind driving. If you are based in CLT, you may want to head to DCA to get the bonus miles from connecting in CLT (And oddly, sometimes the flights are cheaper with the extra leg).
Hope this helps!